17-year-old singer Anaïs Reno turns to jazz music to recharge and inspire herself after the past year

There may not be another teenager in 2021 who is as obsessed with Frank Sinatra as Anaïs Reno. The 17-year-old singer shows off several of her CD and vinyl albums on a shelf in the bedroom of her New York apartment.

“It’s a little worrying,” she joked, holding up other jazz records from Sarah Vaughan, Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington. “But hey, it’s me.”

“He really is an old soul,” his mother, Julie Kurtzman, told Inside Edition Digital.

Anaïs loves collecting old records and listening to her idols, especially on vinyl, as fans have been doing for decades. “It’s really nice to feel that atmosphere of being in a jazz club come into your room,” she said. She released an Ella Fitzgerald album, a gift she received for her 15th birthday, and played around on her record player a bit. “It comforts me in times when COVID can get a bit depressing.”

Finding her voice as a teenage jazz singer

She discovered her love for jazz after realizing how much it consumed her life, she said. But Anaïs’ love of music should come as no surprise to those who know the teenager, daughter of an opera singer father, Camille Reno, and a violinist mother. Music, in a way, is in his DNA.

Anais Reno
Anais Reno

Anaïs was only one year old when she and her parents moved from Switzerland to New York. One day, when Anaïs was about 5 years old, her parents heard her singing “A Whole New World” in the house. It was something many other kids had probably done, but it caught his mother’s ear.

“I noticed this very unusual sound coming out of his mouth,” Kurtzman said. She enrolls Anaïs in singing lessons. “I think the voice actually [came] from his father.

A few years later, when she was 8 years old, Anaïs added jazz to her repertoire on the recommendation of her singing teacher. It was then that she embarked on the journey to become a jazz singer.

Building a Career as a Jazz Musician

At the age of 13, Anaïs made her singing debut at Birdland, a mythical jazz club in Times Square. In a normal year, around 1,500 performers grace its stage. As soon as 35-year-old club owner Gianni Valenti heard Anaïs sing, he knew he had to meet her. “I hear a lot of singers,” Valenti said. “The one thing I always remember is the poise she had on stage and the delivery.”

Anaïs went on to perform at several prominent New York theater venues, including Carnegie Hall, Feinstein’s 54 Below, New York Philharmonic at David Geffen Hall, and Rose Hall at Lincoln Center. She performed on stage with Billy Stritch and the Emmet Cohen Trio.

But over the past year, those opportunities to entertain others have dwindled. She has mostly been relegated to performing in her bedroom since live performance venues were shut down amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“I won’t lie. I was very depressed about it,” she said as she stood in front of a green curtain taking up most of the space in her bedroom. It was there that she filmed her roles as “The Scarecrow” for her high school production of “The Wizard of Oz.” Anaïs is a drama student at the prestigious LaGuardia High School in Manhattan. She admits she’s not used to performing without the adrenaline of an audience, but has adapted by practicing new skills. She spends hours on Zoom with her friend, doing lines and rehearsing.

“She lost a bit of herself during that time,” Kurtzman said. “It was a real challenge. It’s not easy to stay in your room and have to attend classes and lessons.

“To be transparent, it took a toll on my mental health,” Anaïs said. “I try to work through it and not dig in because I’m used to it. But there are times when I feel like it pays off.

Recording of his first album

Last summer, she recorded her debut album, “Lovesomething: Anaïs Reno Sings Ellington & Strayhorn,” which she plans to add to her growing catalog of prominent jazz artists.

It pays tribute to the great names in jazz, composer Duke Ellington and jazz pianist Billy Strayhorn.

“I think their music captures the complexity of the human experience,” she said of why she chose to honor them. “There’s something a bit dark about them in terms of the harmonies and the way these intertwine with the melodies. And that resonates very strongly with me because of the melancholy that resides in each of their songs.

It might seem like an odd choice for a high school student, who some say would be more comfortable singing pop songs, but the young singer has the maturity and range to succeed. Like others, Valenti at first thought such song selections for a teenager were “pretty heavy stuff,” but was impressed with how she pulled it off. “She’s going to be here for a long time. And she’s going to turn a lot of heads.

Her mother chokes when asked how she feels hearing her daughter sing jazz. “I have tears in my eyes. I really do. I feel her soul comes out through the lyrics and the music. I feel the passion she has for the music.

Finding Solace in Jazz Clubs

It didn’t really strike Anaïs that she had her own album, but she hopes to celebrate it with a concert at Birdland once it reopens. “That’s where it feels most natural for me to exist,” she said. “We walked in here today to do this interview and I immediately felt more comfortable than I’ve felt in weeks, to be honest.”

Noting that she used to isolate herself from her peers, Anaïs said she got better at trying to connect with others her age. But during this time when she said she felt the least understood, Birdland was her rock. “I don’t know what else would have happened in my life if this place hadn’t been a part of it,” she said.

Anais Reno

Future performances might not have been possible without the hundreds of thousands of people gathered earlier this year. In January, a benefit concert raised over $411,000 to help save Birdland from closing. “So, as a community, we can enjoy the greatest musicians in the world, doing what they do best, in one of the most iconic clubs in the world, right here in our beloved city,” wrote producer Tom D’Angora on GoFundMe. .

At Birdland, Anaïs walks energetically through the building to share her story, which is displayed along the walls. “This way: love of my life, Frank Sinatra,” she shouted. In another room, Anaïs points to famous predecessors who inspire her: Billie Holiday, Count Basie, Miles Davis, Sammy Davis Jr., to name just a few of the stars whose photos adorn the walls and whose names she quotes. .

“I don’t aspire to be exactly like them because it’s useless,” noted Anaïs. “They were truly one of a kind, but I yearn to remember the great mark they left on the world.”

Related to other teenagers

Acting isn’t something she does to get people’s attention.

“It helps me feel the most understanding of myself,” she explained. “And that’s interesting because on the one hand, I’ve often been put in a position where I have to be professional and very adult and very mature. But at the same time, it’s one of the only things that makes me feel like I can actually be a teenager, which I haven’t had the opportunity to indulge in much in my life.

Although few teenagers are known for their passion for jazz, Anaïs said that was not a point of contention either. “It does not create such a divide” between his friends. “At the end of the day, we’re just people listening to music.”

Anaïs’ approach to social media also differs from her peers, in that she’s not really into it. “It affects my mental health,” she said firmly.

“You see people look a certain way, act a certain way, achieve certain things. It’s hard to discern what’s real from what’s fake.

Anaïs has an Instagram account, but it’s only to promote her album. She doesn’t post about the high school experiences she missed this year. Or the things she left in her locker: a few coats, shoes and textbooks. And Anaïs definitely doesn’t remember her locker combination.

college bound

In the future, when she looks back on the past year, she hopes to remember that she did her best. ” I did what I could ; and that there were at least some lessons I could have learned from it.

Outside LaGuardia, Anais recognizes the security guard standing outside. And she wants to go there. She is still oblivious to everything she missed.

“I’m sure it will hit me when I go to college,” she said. Anaïs will participate in SUNY Purchase in the fall. There, she will study jazz. “I want to grow as much as possible as an artist and as a person,” she said.

Related stories

Ada J. Kenney